Help­ing stu­dents con­quer the odds

Lesotho Times - - Feature - Makhopotso Mothusi

Qacha’s Nek - Many pri­mary school stu­dents in Qacha’s Nek Dis­trict are used to the high altitude and the moun­tain­ous en­vi­ron­ment.

how­ever, that does not mean travers­ing th­ese moun­tains is a walk in the park. ev­ery school-day, the stu­dents brave this un­du­lat­ing ter­rain, some bare­foot, on their win­ter jour­neys to far­away pri­mary schools.

The learn­ers are aware that for them to be ed­u­cated, they have to en­dure the agony of walk­ing long dis­tances to school. how­ever, free meals pro­vided at such schools are an in­cen­tive that gives them the en­ergy to con­quer their moun­tain­ous en­vi­ron­ment.

With the last agri­cul­tural sea­son’s yield look­ing bad in most parts of the dis­trict, many stu­dents from un­der­priv­i­leged homes have to rely on the food they re­ceive at school.

In vil­lages sit­u­ated in the sehla­bathebe area, the food sit­u­a­tion looks par­tic­u­larly des­per­ate and it is ap­par­ent that in just a few weeks’ time, hunger would have badly af­fected the most vul­ner­a­ble, par­tic­u­larly chil­dren, preg­nant and breast­feed­ing moth­ers, and also the sick.

“We are pray­ing for a mir­a­cle to sur­vive this year’s drought,” says Mak­eneuoe Mbi of Mosaqane vil­lage. “all our crops were af­fected and we have noth­ing, in­clud­ing wa­ter, for us to even think of grow­ing some veg­eta­bles.” The drought also af­fected most coun­tries in south­ern africa , mak­ing it one of the bleak­est pe­ri­ods in living mem­ory.

how­ever, the rough road to sehla­bathebe Na­tional Park takes a sud­den turn to Mote­bong Pri­mary school, branch­ing into an­other rough gravel road. More than a hun­dred of the 128 chil­dren at this school are or­phans and vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren.

Many have lost their par­ents to aids while oth­ers tell heartrend­ing tales of how their par­ents went to work in south africa, leav­ing them in the care of poor rel­a­tives and neigh­bours. Pro­vid­ing healthy meals to stu­dents at Mote­bong Pri­mary school has never been more im­por­tant than it is now, thanks to the drought and un­re­lent­ing aids epi­demic.

Through the ed­u­ca­tion act of 2010, the Gov­ern­ment of Le­sotho made pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion free and com­pul­sory, with the pro­vi­sion of food in all public schools com­ple­ment­ing th­ese ef­forts.

how­ever, last year, gov­ern­ment went even a step fur­ther by com­mit­ting to fund the en­tire na­tional school-feed­ing pro­gramme start­ing this year un­til 2017. Un­der this ini­tia­tive, the gov­ern­ment has part­nered with the United Na­tions’ World Food Pro­gramme (WFP), which will man­age the pro­gramme and also sup­port the devel­op­ment of gov­ern­ment’s ca­pac­ity to man­age schoolfeed­ing as from 2018.

With gov­ern­ment’s com­mit­ment, WFP is this year pro­vid­ing food to 250,000 stu­dents in 1,173 pri­mary schools through­out the coun­try. The stu­dents will get por­ridge for break­fast and lunch of the sta­ple food papa served with ei­ther beans or fish. Start­ing from 2016, a to­tal of 400,000 stu­dents in 1,480 pri­mary schools coun­try­wide, would be re­ceiv­ing food from WFP.

ac­cord­ing to the Prin­ci­pal of Mote­bong school, Man­toa Ncho­choba, a com­bi­na­tion of food and free com­pul­sory ed­u­ca­tion is what has taken pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion to an­other level in Le­sotho.

For more than 40 years, WFP has been pro­vid­ing food to Mote­bong and other pri­mary schools in the high­lands dis­tricts, thereby re­duc­ing mal­nu­tri­tion among stu­dents. In the last two years, with the sup­port from the Gov­ern­ment of south africa, WFP has pro­vided food as­sis­tance to 200,000 chil­dren in more than 1000 pri­mary schools.

Ms Ncho­choba be­lieves fam­i­lies’ re­newed ap­pre­ci­a­tion of school-meals and an in­creased un­der­stand­ing of the im­por­tance of ed­u­cat­ing both boys and girls, might be con­tribut­ing to an in­creased num­ber of boys now at­tend­ing school.

Over the years, trend has de­vel­oped whereby there are more girls than boys at­tend­ing school in Le­sotho. This has been at­trib­uted to the fact that some boys, par­tic­u­larly those from the re­mote ar­eas of the moun­tain­ous re­gions, tend to drop out of school to herd live­stock.

“The num­ber of boys used to be very low but cur­rently in our school we have 59 boys and 69 girls,” says Ms Ncho­choba. “The gap is nar­row­ing.”

how­ever, Ms Man­toa Ncho­choba is also do­ing more to make sure that all chil­dren el­i­gi­ble for pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion in the area at­tend school.

she dis­cov­ered a six-year-old mal­nour­ished girl who was made to do some do­mes­tic chores in re­turn for food, some­thing that is un­usual for a child her age in this neigh­bour- hood. The girl’s mother is a widow strug­gling to look af­ter her eight chil­dren.

De­spite the girl’s young age, Ms Ncho­choba re­alised school was her best hope.

“I spoke with the mother about her poor health and ex­plained that if she comes to school, she will learn and also re­ceive food,” Ms Ncho­choba says.

con­vinced that school and food would do her daugh­ter some good, Teboho started class one last year.

“since she started learn­ing here, her health has im­proved,” says Ms Ncho­choba. “she is also no longer un­der pres­sure to work at home as she has to do her homework.”

Ms Ncho­choba says that school is also an­other way for girls to es­cape early mar­riage. The young girl she res­cued is en­joy­ing school and would like to con­tinue with her classes un­til she has com­pleted her pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion. she wants to be a nurse when she grows up.

sim­i­lar sto­ries can be heard at khomo Phat­soa Pri­mary school in Ma­suoa­neng vil- lage, which is a few kilo­me­tres from Mote­bong school. es­tab­lished in 2005, the school has, in re­cent years, at­tracted more boys than girls. There are 49 girls and 60 boys at this school, and its foot­ball team is one of the best in the dis­trict.

Un­like in other schools, khomo Pat­soa school is tak­ing mat­ters into its own hands to en­sure there is di­ver­sity in the food the stu­dents are fed. The school has es­tab­lished a veg­etable gar­den and a field where they grow maize, pro­vid­ing more nu­tri­tion for the learn­ers.

“The food we are pro­duc­ing is im­prov­ing our school menu and also help­ing us raise in­come, which we use to buy shoes for chil­dren from poor fam­i­lies,” says Then­jiwe Mhlozana, a teacher at the school. “This area is very cold in win­ter; we would like all the chil­dren to have shoes.”

On his part, the Dis­trict ad­min­is­tra­tor for Qacha’s Nek, Mo­siuoa Nthakong, said while pro­vid­ing meals in schools is one of the best pro­grammes the coun­try has ever come up with, there is also need to teach chil­dren the im­por­tance of agri­cul­ture.

“It is im­por­tant for chil­dren to re­ceive early learn­ing about the im­por­tance of pro­duc­ing food in or­der for them to take a lead in agri­cul­ture in the fu­ture,” he says. “That way, there can be a com­mon un­der­stand­ing of so­lu­tions that would en­sure that we be­come food se­cure.”

he be­lieves the dis­trict needs in­no­va­tions that can help break chronic food in­se­cu­rity and over-de­pen­dency on neigh­bour­ing south africa.

“It is en­cour­ag­ing that the gov­ern­ment, WFP and other part­ners are giv­ing food sup­port to or­phans and vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren, preg­nant and breast­feed­ing women and the sick,” he says. “how­ever, for us to be at ease, we need dy­namic and determined stake­hold­ers to work with the lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties on so­lu­tions that will erad­i­cate hunger and poverty.” he says ca­pac­ity should be de­vel­oped for com­mu­ni­ties to have the abil­ity to pro­duce food and for the dis­trict to be self-suf­fi­cient.

Stu­dents queue for food at mote­bong Pri­mary School.

Khomo Patšoa School stu­dents work in their school­gar­den. The food is eaten at school and sur­plus sold to buy shoes for stu­dents from un­der­priv­i­leged homes.

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